By Randy Johnston, Executive Vice President, K2 Enterprises
Are you doing things the same old way? Do you wish there were an easier way? Have you noticed how rapidly our technology tools are changing? Continuous updates via the internet has become the standard for technology on our mobile phones, for Software as a Service (SaaS), and applications like Microsoft Office. Addressing security needs, new features and evolving the product can’t be a once a year process releasing all the changes at one time using the waterfall approach. Developers are using short sprints spanning just a few weeks to add features and repair bugs while following scrum methodology.
So, How Do I Accommodate Rapid Change?
First, you need to have your own vision. What are your business strategy and tactics, and what are your information technology (IT) strategy and tactics? How do you build your business case for the use of any technology and how do you justify your expenditures? How do you manage change? What do you have in place for governance of the changes? Or, do you simple “decide”.
Second, you need to pick tools that either work together from the software creator, that have an automated way to connect with software tools we call digital plumbing, or you have to have available IT expertise in-house or contracted to keep the tools running. In the CPA firm world, we attempted to work around most these problems by picking all our applications from a single vendor like CCH Wolters Kluwer or Thomson Reuters. This approach is commonly referred to as the “one suite” method. Our expectation was that these vendors would make all their modules work together or “talk” to each other, so a client set up in practice management would flow into the tax software. We had a similar expectation when we purchased software from a major vendor like Sage Software who had lots of modules that they owned and sold. However, by the time we reached the early part of this century, it was clear that integrations to third party vendors were going to become more common. Today, most vendors don’t build a complete solution. They expect you to acquire all the third-party applications you need to solve your business issues. This approach is commonly referred to as the “best-of-breed” method.
As a business manager, you must assume that your applications will change regularly, probably even monthly. This is quite different than the past where applications had major revisions once or twice a year with the waterfall method of releases. You will need to have training for your team to accommodate the rapid change. Most users do not have the desire, time or insight to recognize new software features and optimize the way they use them. Worse, many do not even notice that a new feature has arrived.
For best results, we believe that your business should have all the processes used mapped. When software is updated, these processes can change for better or worse. You need to make sure your team understands the changes and what the firm believes is the best method to use the software to run the business smoothly.
Further, vendors will try to sell additional applications and features that you may or may not need. Consider how you will evaluate or vette the opportunities presented continuously by new software and features. Not all problems should be solved with technology, but not using features that you are already paying for seems like such a waste of human capital. As examples, consider the use of Excel Tables, the Excel Data Model along with the Extract, Transform and Load features of Get Data or the use of certification in Adobe Acrobat. All these features have been available for years, and we suspect many of you do not know they exist.
How Can I Help My Team?
Education and Training! While CPA professionals routinely take continuing professional education (CPE), it is important to focus on learning new techniques that will save time. Education helps see the big picture and understand strategy while training instructs on how to complete a simple task. While just in time learning is convenient to learn how to solve a pressing problem, the technique learned may not be the optimal way or even a way you want the problem solved. On the other hand, the user may have spotted a new easier way to complete critical tasks. You should learn from the user (or the user from you), your processes should be updated, and the new method taught to everyone.
As a business manager or owner, one of your jobs is to help people be as effective as possible and do their work in the optimal way possible. This fits quite well with human nature, which is to do things in the easiest way possible. Of course, that desire to do things in an easy way is often off set by not wanting to change. You can achieve the best of all worlds if you can help people change by optimizing their processes and making things easier. However, this is not a “one and done”. While we used to recommend process revisions twice a year, the software updates that are changing almost monthly are making us think that processes need to be revised more often, perhaps monthly. Perhaps we’ll learn from you as you learn the optimal way to revise your processes. If you do, we’d love to learn from you, too!
Randy Johnston is a shareholder in K2 Enterprises, LLC, a leading provider of Continuing Professional Education to Certified Public Accountants.